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Feb 1, 2022

Advocacy, Education And Connection

Sponsored Content provided by Natalie English - President & CEO, Wilmington Chamber of Commerce

For many of us, the start of a new year can symbolize the turning of a new page. Certainly, this has been true of the last two years as we have navigated shutdowns, supply chain issues, and workforce shortages together.

As the first and longest continually operating chamber of commerce in North Carolina, the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce has sustained itself through numerous economic downturns while protecting and strengthening the Wilmington business community. I’m delighted to report that this organization experienced tremendous growth last year, thanks to the clear-eyed focus on our vision of positioning our community for prosperity by cultivating business growth.
 
Last year, the chamber realized a 59% increase in new members over the previous year. Our chamber also hosted nearly 100 events and experienced a 36% increase in new unique event attendees. Our team hosted 24 ribbon cuttings for new businesses that opened in our area, most of which occurred in the second half of the year. Leadership Wilmington applications were up 194% over the previous year and we are looking at ways to create new leadership development opportunities to satisfy that demand.
 
Our team has worked tirelessly to serve, support, and encourage our members. As you spend time establishing your goals for this year, I would hope you consider joining the chamber as a way to help you grow your business, make new connections, and develop as a leader.

If I were to present a Top Three Reasons to Join our Chamber, they would focus on:

1. ADVOCACY 
For over 155 years the Wilmington Chamber has served as the voice of business in our community. We maintain insight into policy changes, city ordinances, developments, and regional challenges that impact your business. In 2021, the chamber celebrated the sale of New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health and the creation of a $1.2 billion community endowment that will benefit generations to come. A resolution in support of the Partnership Advisory Group’s work to explore a sale and ultimately to recommend a sale of NHRMC to Novant Health was supported by the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors.
 
The Wilmington Chamber of Commerce also advocated for the creation of a $4.5 million grant program that would benefit small locally owned businesses in the Hospitality, Retail, Childcare, and Service industry that was funded by New Hanover County and the City of Wilmington. At the request of county leaders, chamber staff developed the processes for application, review, and notification to distribute the funds as quickly as possible. 192 businesses received funds to support their recovery from pandemic-related shutdowns.
 
This organization also advocated for the addition of a small business-focused business retention & expansion program to fill in a critical gap in our economic development ecosystem. At the request of the county, the initiative is now housed at the chamber and will work alongside WBD and WDI to focus on retaining and assisting in the growth of existing businesses in our county.  This initiative brings a new staff person who will serve as the front door for small businesses in our community, or coming to our community, looking for resources to aid in their growth.
 
The Wilmington Chamber advocated for a solution to the beach renourishment funding shortfall in the region. We also advocated for PPP loans to be tax-exempt and expenses to be tax-deductible in the state of North Carolina as in other states. We continued work developing the regional transportation advocacy group to help prioritize our region’s transportation needs, including a replacement for the Cape Fear Memorial Bridge.

We are also continuing to monitor the rule-making process to reincorporate Brunswick County back into Wilmington’s MSA. We also educated and advocated for the business community through last year’s municipal election cycle to ensure smart policies that allow businesses to create solutions, grow, and move our economy forward are enacted.
 
2. EDUCATION & INFORMATION 
The Wilmington Chamber hosts timely educational events that serve your business in growth and development. We host experts on business-related topics such as marketing, accounting, human resources, leadership, and public policy.  

In 2021, members learned about the NC First Commission’s work to identify new funding sources for transportation infrastructure and the Wilmington MPO’s work to align and prioritize funding for transportation projects. They heard about federal policies from a US Chamber representative.  They received updates on Project Grace, the NHC Unified Development Ordinance and beach renourishment activities in our county. 

We hosted webinars and onsite opportunities for businesses to learn about managing their business’ finances, human resources and legal issues.

We shared opportunities that our partners offer to aid in small business growth and entrepreneurship. We strive to ensure there is something for everyone, from corporate to small businesses. Our chamber also sends out regular email updates about upcoming events and local issues affecting business owners.
 
3. CONNECTION 
Many people know that a chamber of commerce is an excellent outlet for building connections. Our chamber hosts nearly 100 events annually, including monthly networking opportunities, educational seminars, leadership programming, and public policy meetings. Members have an opportunity to make valuable connections and engage with other business professionals at any one of our unique offerings.
 
Your Wilmington Chamber of Commerce also provides opportunities for connecting and networking in ways that are new for our business community. The African America Business Council and the Latin American Business Council are avenues for African American and Latinx business owners to connect as well as opens avenues, through the chamber, for them to grow their business outside their own communities.
 
As we look towards celebrating with our members at our 155th Annual Meeting on February 17, we remain committed to working as a helpful resource and steadfast advocate for business. I encourage you to invest in your business in 2022 by becoming a member of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce.
 


Natalie’s passion for helping others shines through the moment she strikes a conversation. As President & CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, Natalie works with businesses, government and elected leaders to make the Wilmington community attractive for business growth and investment.
 
As a lifelong learner, Natalie has served as a chamber of commerce executive for over 20 years and is constantly striving for professional growth through speaking opportunities, leadership positions, and development of community relationships. She believes that chamber members bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to our community and is proud to support them every day.
 
Prior to joining the Wilmington Chamber, Natalie spent a collective 11 years at the Charlotte Chamber, most recently as Chief Public Policy Officer. Natalie’s role included managing campaigns for community referenda which helped lead to the passage of over $5 billion in infrastructure investments since 2006.
 
Natalie received her B.A. in Communications from North Carolina State University, and achieved her designation as a Certified Chamber Executive in 2012, one of approximately 700 in the world. In 2010, the National Association of Women Business Owners – Charlotte Chapter awarded Natalie with their Community Service Award. In 2008, Natalie was awarded the prestigious Marshall Memorial Fellowship and completed a 25-day trip to Europe to learn about and advance trans-Atlantic relations. She was named as a 2008 Women in Business Achievement Award Winner by the Charlotte Business Journal and in 2009 and 2013 the Mecklenburg Times named Natalie one of the 50 Most Influential Women in Charlotte.
 
Natalie is also an active volunteer, serving on multiple boards, including United Way Cape Fear, The Blue Ribbon Commission on the Prevention of Youth Violence, Carolinas Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (CACCE), and Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE).

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